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Hypnosis is a state of mind in which a person's conscious critical thinking mind is bypassed and communication with the subconscious mind is established. Although some individuals experience an increase in suggestibility and subjective feelings of an 'altered state of consciousness', this is not true for everyone.

Understanding Hypnotherapy

The American Psychological Association defines hypnosis as follows: Hypnosis typically involves an introduction to the procedure during which the subject is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented. The hypnotic induction is an extended initial suggestion for using one's imagination, and may contain further elaborations of the introduction. A hypnotic procedure is used to encourage and evaluate responses to suggestions. When using hypnosis, one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behavior.

Persons can also learn self-hypnosis, which is the act of administering hypnotic procedures on one's own. If the subject responds to hypnotic suggestions, it is generally inferred that hypnosis has been induced. Many believe that hypnotic responses and experiences are characteristic of a hypnotic state. While some think that it is not necessary to use the word "hypnosis" as part of the hypnotic induction, others view it as essential.

Details of hypnotic procedures and suggestions will differ depending on the goals of the practitioner and the purposes of the clinical or research endeavor. Procedures traditionally involve suggestions to relax, though relaxation is not necessary for hypnosis and a wide variety of suggestions can be used including those to become more alert. Suggestions that permit the extent of hypnosis to be assessed by comparing responses to standardized scales can be used in both clinical and research settings. While the majority of individuals are responsive to at least some suggestions, scores on standardized scales range from high to negligible. Traditionally, scores are grouped into low, medium, and high categories. As is the case with other positively-scaled measures of psychological constructs such as attention and awareness, the salience of evidence for having achieved hypnosis increases with the individual's score.

Therapistfinder.net defines hypnosis as a naturally occurring altered state of consciousness in which the critical faculty is bypassed (mind in the conscious mode) and acceptable selective thinking established. 

This simply means that the reasoning, evaluating, judging part of your mind (conscious) is bypassed. While we wonder how this could possibly happen, we are subject to it all the time. The advertising industry is dedicated to bypassing our critical judgment all the time in order to influence our buying behavior. We suspend our critical judgment other times when an authority figure makes some sort of comment; doctors, clergy, professors, and many more fall into this category.  Children suspend their critical judgment frequently in games of "let's pretend". Actors do it in playing a part; they have to suspend their critical faculty, and they ask the audience to suspend theirs to accept them as being someone else.

With the critical faculty bypassed, specific thoughts/suggestions can be lodged in the subconscious where they can propel the client toward a desired goal or change behavior in a positive, permanent way. Any such suggestions must be acceptable to the client, of course. They would have no effect otherwise.


Hypnotherapy is the application of hypnosis as a form of treatment, usually for relieving pain or conditions related to one's state of mind. Practitioners believe that when a client enters, or believes he has entered, a state of trance, the patient is more receptive to suggestion and other therapy. The most common use of hypnotherapy is to remedy maladies like addiction, obesity and eating problems, pain, anxiety, amnesia, stress, phobias, and performance but many others can also be treated by hypnosis, including functional disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Applications of Hypnosis

The following has been adapted from the Wikipedia website. 


Hypnotherapy is a term to describe the use of hypnosis in a therapeutic context. Many hypnotherapists refer to their practice as "clinical work." Hypnotherapy can either be used as an addition to the work of a licensed physician or psychologist, or it can be used in a stand-alone environment where the hypnotherapist in question usually owns his or her own business. The majority of certified hypnotherapists earn a large portion of their money through the cessation of smoking and the aid of weight loss.  Some of the treatments practiced by hypnotherapists, in particular so-called regression, have been viewed with skepticism.  The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have both cautioned against the use of repressed memory therapy in dealing with cases of alleged childhood trauma, stating that it is not possible, without other corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one.

Clinical hypnosis

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis is an organization that "promotes greater acceptance of hypnosis as a clinical tool with broad applications". Hypnosis is applied to a great range of both physical and psychological ailments, rather than being restricted to purely psychological phenomena. The society was founded by Milton Erickson, a doctor who attempted to put hypnosis on a firm therapeutic backing in the 1950s. Milton Erickson's technique of hypnosis was later called the Ericksonian technique


Self-hypnosis (or autosuggestion) hypnosis in which a person hypnotizes himself or herself without the assistance of another person to serve as the hypnotist—is a staple of hypnotherapy-related self-help programs. It is most often used to help the self-hypnotist stay on a diet, overcome smoking or some other addiction, or to generally boost the hypnotized person's self-esteem. It is rarely used for the more complex or controversial uses of hypnotism, which require the hypnotist to monitor the hypnotized person's reactions and responses and respond accordingly. Most people who practice self-hypnosis require a focus in order to become fully hypnotized; there are many computer programs on the market that can ostensibly help in this area, though few, if any, have been scientifically proven to aid self-hypnosis.

Some people use devices known as mind machines to help them go into self-hypnosis more readily. A mind machine consists of glasses with different colored flashing LEDs on the inside, and headphones. The LEDs stimulate the visual channel while the headphones stimulate the audio channel with similar or slightly different frequencies designed to produce a certain mental state.

Mass application

Influencing the crowds of common longings and yearnings by a demagogue is called mass hypnosis. Generally mass hypnosis is applied to religious sessions. Many forms of music and dance can be used to create religious trance.

Medical application
Evidence supports the clinical use of hypnosis for pain control, for weight control, in the treatment of irritable-bowel syndrome, and as an adjunct to cognitive behavioral and other therapies. Hypnosis, itself, is not a therapy, but is effectively used as an adjunct to other therapies; hence, "hypnotherapy" is less preferable than the use of hypnosis-related techniques as part of an integrated psychological package.

Stage application

In stage hypnosis, a hypnotist carefully chooses volunteers from the audience, puts them into a trance using hypnosis and then plants suggestions for them to perform. The critical factor in all stage hypnosis shows is the choice of enthusiastic and credulous individuals. Various techniques exist for discerning whether an individual is a likely candidate for a hypnosis stage act. Often, the sheer willingness of audience members to volunteer is a sign that they will "go along with" the hypnotist's suggestions during the show, whether or not they ever really become hypnotized in the first place.

What is a hypnotherapist?

"Hypnotherapist---induces hypnotic state in client to increase motivation or alter behavior pattern through hypnosis. Consults with client to determine the nature of problem. Prepares client to enter hypnotic states by explaining how hypnosis works and what client will experience. Tests subject to determine degrees of physical and emotional suggestibility. Induces hypnotic state in client using individualized methods and techniques of hypnosis based on interpretation of test results and analysis of client's problem. May train client in self-hypnosis."(This is from the U.S. Department of Labor Directory of Occupational Titles. D.O.T. 079.157.010.)

A hypnotherapist is a skilled and trained helping professional who helps you use your own powerful mind to increase motivation or change behavior patterns by inducing a trance state. When hypnotized, your mind is operating in its subconscious mode (referred to by some as the "first gear" of the mind).

Prior to hypnotizing the client, the therapist discusses in the goal the client wants to achieve or the problem s/he wants to resolve in detail. The more the hypnotherapist can share in the experience of the client as s/he experiences it, the more individualized the therapy can be and the greater its impact. The hypnotist also prepares the client to enter hypnosis by explaining just what hypnosis is, how it works and what s/he will experience; if you're starting on a trip it helps to know how and where you're going.

Everyone is susceptible (to one degree or other) to suggestion. Your hypnotherapist will guide you through some exercises that will help determine your degree of suggestibility.

Finally, your hypnotherapist will induce a hypnotic state using individualized methods and techniques based on the results of your suggestibility and the nature of your goal or problem.

Hypnotherapy techniques or terminology (as adapted from Wikipedia on Hypnotherapy):

Age Regression - by returning to an earlier ego-state the patient can regain qualities they once had, but have lost. Remembering an earlier, healthier, ego-state can increase the patients strength and confidence.

Revivification - remembering past experiences can contribute to therapy. For example; the hypnotist may ask "have you ever been in trance?" and then find it easier to revive the previous experience than attempt inducing a new state.

Guided Imagery - a method by which the subject is given a new relaxing and beneficial experience.

Parts Therapy - a method pioneered by Charles Tebbets to identify conflicting parts that are damaging the well being of clients, then helps those parts negotiate with each other through the therapist to bring about a resolution.

Confusion - a method developed by Milton Erickson in which the subject becomes receptive to ideas because confused.

Repetition - the more an idea is repeated the more likely it is to be accepted and acted upon by the patient.

Direct Suggestion - suggesting directly. "You feel safe and secure".

Indirect Suggestion - using "interspersal" technique and other means to cause effect.

Mental State - people are more receptive while relaxed, sleeping, or in a trance.

Hypnoanalysis - the client recalls moments from his past, confronting them and releasing associated emotions, similar to psychoanalysis.

Post Hypnotic Suggestion - a suggestion that will be carried out after the trance has ended. "When you re-awaken you will feel refreshed and happy!!"

Binds or Double binds - tension on a bind causes trance. This is like "the centipede who when asked which comes first, the left foot or the right, lost his concentration, stumbled, then rolled into the ditch". Binds are very common in hypnosis and it is essential to know the capacity of the subject and to ensure they will concentrate on the leg that will carry them through their journey. The duty of the hypnotist is to concentrate the subject on their desired goal.

Visualization - being told to imagine or visualize a desired outcome seems to make it more likely to actually occur.

Techniques specific to medical disorders, such as gut-directed hypnotherapy protocols for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Van Vorous, 2001)

An interesting website, Skepdic.com on hypnosis  talks about challenging the common view of hypnosis. They define the common view of hypnosis as a trance-like altered state of consciousness and point out that many who accept this view also believe that hypnosis is a way of accessing an unconscious mind full of repressed memories, multiple personalities, mystical insights, or memories of past lives. This view of hypnosis as an altered state and gateway to occult knowledge about the self and the universe is considered a myth by many psychologists. There are two distinct, though related, aspects to this mythical view of hypnosis: the myth of the altered state and the myth of the occult reservoir.

Those supporting the altered state theory often cite studies that show that during hypnosis (1) the brain’s electrical states change and (2) brain waves differ from those during waking consciousness. The critics of the mythical view point out that these facts are irrelevant to establishing hypnosis as an altered state of consciousness. One might as well call daydreaming, concentrating, imagining the color red, or sneezing altered states, since the experience of each will show electrical changes in the brain and changes in brain waves from ordinary waking consciousness.

Those supporting the unconscious occult reservoir theory support their belief with anecdotes of numerous people who, while hypnotized, (a) recall events from their present or past life of which they have no conscious memory, or (b) relate being in distant places and/or future times while under hypnosis.

Most of what is known about hypnosis, as opposed to what is believed, has come from studies on the subjects of hypnosis. We know that there is a significant correlation between being imaginative and being responsive to hypnosis. We know that those who are fantasy-prone are also likely to make excellent hypnotic subjects. We know that vivid imagery enhances suggestibility. We know that those who think hypnosis is rubbish can’t be hypnotized. We know that hypnotic subjects are not turned into zombies and are not controlled by their hypnotists. We know that hypnosis does not enhance the accuracy of memory in any special way. We know that a person under hypnosis is very suggestible and that memory is easily “filled-in” by the imagination and by suggestions made under hypnosis. We know that confabulation is quite common while under hypnosis and that many States do not allow testimony which has been induced by hypnosis because it is intrinsically unreliable. We know the greatest predictor of hypnotic responsiveness is what a person believes about hypnosis.

Hypnosis continues to be used in a wide variety of contexts, not all of which are beneficial. Using hypnosis to help people quit smoking or stick to a diet may be useful, and even if it fails it is probably not harmful. Using hypnosis to help people remember license plate numbers of cars used in crimes may be useful, and even if it fails it is probably not harmful. Using hypnosis to help victims or witnesses of crimes remember what happened may be useful, but it can also be dangerous because of the ease with which the subject can be manipulated by suggestions from the hypnotist. Overzealous police hypnotists may put conviction of those they think are guilty above honest conviction by honest evidence presented to a jury. Hypnosis is also dangerous in the police setting, because of the tendency of too many police officers to believe in truth serums, lie detectors, and other magical and easy ways to get to the truth.

Using hypnosis to help people recover memories of sexual abuse by their closest relatives or by aliens in spaceships is dangerous, and in some cases, clearly immoral and degrading. For, in some cases, hypnosis is used to encourage patients to remember and then believe events which probably never happened. If these memories were not of such horrible and painful events, they would be of little concern. But by nurturing delusions of evil suffered, therapists often do irreparable harm to those who put their trust in them. And they do this in the name of healing and caring, as did the priests of old when they hunted witches and exorcised demons.

It is critical that anyone thinking of undergoing hypnosis educate themselves about the process and about the therapist who will conduct the hypnosis. Several types of organizations exist to further the professionalism and regulation of practicing hypnotists. For example, professional associations typically offer opportunities for collegial exchanges and professional development in general and/or specialized areas of hypnosis. They also may establish codes of conduct and standards for various certification programs. They may offer such certification programs directly or approve third-party programs. Organizations not affiliated with any professional association may offer their own certificates as well.

Additional Information

For more information about hypnotherapy and other therapeutic approaches, please click on the linked websites listed below.

 American Board of Clinical Hypnotherapy
 Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy
 National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists
 American Psychological Association defines hypnosis

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